My first attempt at overseas missions was a rather spur of the moment decision. As I made plans to drop out of college and get an apartment with my best friend, Dad showed me the website of a medical mission in Africa and suggested I give it a try. So I did. I didn’t think about training, or have any idea of how long I’d serve. I just went.
Side Note: Although I served for 2+ years with that mission, I still didn’t consider myself a real missionary. I just dabbled in a life others spent decades in.
My next missionary attempt included nine years of preparation. From the start, my husband and I carefully considered training options and aimed for long-term service. This time I would finally be a real missionary. We joined an aviation mission and moved overseas again.
In those years of preparation, I began to develop a sense of what kind of missionary I wanted to be. I wouldn’t be like those missionaries, you know – the ones who might stay forever, but never really connect with the people or the culture. I would be a real missionary, you know – like Amy Carmichael (55 years in India without a furlough), Hudson Taylor (the man got huge results), Shane Claiborne (made the vow of poverty cool), Don Richardson (that clever ‘redemptive analogies’ guy), and Elisabeth Elliot (missionary to her husband’s murderers).
The trouble was, I couldn’t do it.
Truth: The only thing you need to do to be a real missionary, is to be a real person.
To be a real missionary, you don’t need to stay overseas for decades without a break. You don’t need to take a vow of poverty. You don’t need to start hundreds of projects. You don’t need to write books. You don’t even need huge results.
But I should tell you (and this is really important): you have to learn to be a missionary as the person that you are, not as the person you wish to be.
You are not too young or too old, too extroverted or too introverted, too technically minded or too artsy, too busy with a family or too single. It’s just you – and you are who you are.
Side Note: I really wanted to be an extrovert missionary. I’m not an extrovert. I failed in this. It’s ok though. God uses introverts too.
The whole of you becomes a missionary, not just the part that fits the job description. Your life experiences, your hang-ups, your sense of humor, your world view, your fitness level, your hopes and dreams – all of you, not a bit gets left out.
The real missionary is the person who takes all of who they are and willingly offers it back to the Lord. It’s not about striving to become a missionary, but willingly and joyfully surrendering who you actually, truthfully, really are.
Those other missionaries? The ones whose stories amaze and inspire? They are more like guides. Your own specific missions path is God’s to reveal, but you can still learn from theirs. You learn from their mistakes, successes, joys, and frustrations – but they do not define who you are.
Side Note: Corrie ten Boom is one of my heroes. I read her stories of simple acts of courage in Nazi-occupied Holland, her time in a concentration camp, and her incredible work in forgiveness and extending love to enemies. I’m inspired! I long to see that kind of fruit in my own life! Except… “God, It’s cool if you use me like Corrie, but can we just skip the whole concentration camp part?” Often I want the results of someone’s life, but not the suffering it took to get there.
Truth: You don’t have to be someone else, even if they are really cool. God’s got loads of good works prepared for you – yes, you!
What ultimately matters is that you are good clay. All the training, programs, aspirations, and strategies in the world don’t matter if you aren’t willing and pliable in God’s hands.
So you want to be a real missionary? Take a good look inside. With heart and hands wide open, offer yourself to the Lord.
“God, It’s me – just me. I’m not sure how you can use me, but I am willing.
Whatever you have in mind, I’m all in.”
Once you’ve laid it all out there, freed up from expectations and comparison, you can be who you really want to be – God’s own. Loved and loving others.